Vet’s Voice: The importance of young horse dentistry
May 11, 2014
The requirements and benefits of young horse dentistry are frequently very misunderstood.
There is a common misperception that horses do not require dental care until they are 5-7 years old. That is like saying children should not see a dentist until they are 12.
Unaddressed dental issues in a young horse may lead to permanent problems.
Horses, from birth to age 5, have significant and continual changes occurring in their mouths. They erupt and shed 24 deciduous (baby) teeth and erupt 36-44 permanent (adult) teeth. Dental problems developing during this time may have life long consequences if left untreated.
The most commonly recognized reason for equine dentistry is sharp enamel points causing cheek abrasions or lacerations. This condition also occurs in young horses.
Even yearlings presented for their first float typically have very sharp points and associated cheek lacerations. Young teeth are relatively soft and tend to form points quickly. These points cause discomfort and may affect a horse's weight and training.
Wolf teeth are also a concern. They normally erupt at 6-9 months. These teeth will never be of any benefit and may cause bitting issues. Ideally, they are extracted by 1 year. Later extractions can be much more difficult as the socket becomes harder and tooth roots lengthen.
Horses normally shed their deciduous teeth (caps) from 2-1/2 to 4-1/2 years. Incisors (front teeth) shed at 2-1/2 (central), 3-1/2 (intermediate), and 4-1/2 (corner).
The first three cheek teeth (premolars) typically lose their caps between about 2 years 8 months and 3 years 8 months. Retention of these caps, or their fragments, may lead to crowding, severe cheek ulcerations, and periodontal disease.
The last three cheek teeth (molars) and canines come in as adult teeth. They do not have caps.
The molars erupt at 1, 2, and 3 ½ years, and the canines about 4 ½ – 5. The molars in young horses develop the same overgrowths as adult horses. The canines are fighting teeth and are usually only found in the males.
In addition to health benefits, quality dental care is extremely important prior to starting training.
Dental related pain can be very detrimental and lead to training and bitting issues. It only makes sense to eliminate oral discomfort before introducing them to a bit.
Please don't forget about your young horse's teeth.
You will both be happier. ❖